The Smell of Candle Wax

Copyright (c) 2003 J.D. Chapman All Rights Reserved

When he was in college Ahmad got tangled in the tentacles of the drug scene as he wrestled with the smaller fishes of architecture and structural engineering; I suppose that due to boredom (and the influence of his chemical agencies) he managed to extend his sensitivities well beyond what I would consider safely acceptable. Looking back now he’s unsure if it was more attributable to the drugs or the down-time… although it would seem obvious to assume the former. I kind of suspect it was the boredom (knowing how naturally creative he is) and how corking him up in a classroom with shear and moment calculations must have been like choking down seawater.

But then it might have been the drugs, since one of the adverse effects he noticed was that he was partially disabled by his intense sensitivities: small environmental or human mental activities distracted him to such an extent that he was having difficulty taking care of himself. Well, I didn’t know him in college, but I take his word for it. He said that he often found himself deliberating over the pain in his stomach — realizing that it was finally an indication that he needed to pee — as if his body and brain were working on different wavelengths. In defense he took up smoking; smoking cigarettes calmed him down, it allowed him to focus and to cope with the minutiae at hand.

He was smoking when I met him. He was still a loose cannon though — driven to distraction as we sat and ate dinner together; as we lounged on my couch reading magazines he would get overly upset with something he heard on the television. He still misjudged what was important and might have an impact on our lives: he would take distant stories as close to home; scoff at the thought that the criticisms he leveled toward his boss might affect us. I think it was his hormones.

After years of smoking the tar and nicotine began to catch up with him and when he realized that he would need to quit, Ahmad developed alternative ways to deal with the hyperbole. Guitar helped a lot, along with walking out his thoughts and mooring a framework for prioritizing activity. I know this because he began to carry a list with him; he was always checking to see if he needed to do something in the immediate future, always pulling out his list to jot something down after I asked him to remember a lunch date (or my mom’s weekend visit). The paper and pen in his pocket were his anchor and chain to the real world — it was the link that kept him safely harbored in our petite alcove.

One of the grand realizations that he made that took him off the bleeding edge of imagination was that if he paid extreme attention to balancing himself, along with deferring action to what he had previously written down, then he could avoid most of the tornadoes and landslides caused by following his emotions. Of course the drawback to this ponderousness is that, along with losing some spontaneity, Ahmad chopped off much of the access to his imagination. Not all of it, but still, after the years wore on and he become more and more adept at task management I found that he gradually lost the breadth and color of his previous creativity. Instead of flowing robes of dayglow neon and sparkling headdresses his imagination became an intricately monogrammed handkerchief deep in his back pocket. It is still there of course — it doesn’t go away — it just gets buried deeper and hence requires more serious concentration to unfold. I know this because I love him.

Ahmad has kind of been the passenger, the wizened observer at the hands and discretion of the various Gods as they placed him in situations to see if he could survive. I attribute it to the tension between his physical desires and lack of circumstances; a mismatch between ends and means that would force him to increased sensitivities as he struggled and searched for ways to bridge the gap. In his life I’ve seen him swing both ways — from completely detached and aloof on one end all the way over to psychically overwhelmed on the other end. Never precisely on his own terms though, more at effect than with any sense of desire in the matter.

Lately though Ahmad finds that he can easily feel heightened awareness as long as he’s accomplished everything that he needs to do for the day and has nothing particular on his mind. That is what he tells me. Now he is heading to gradual sensitivity and he seems to have a bit of administrative authority over his progress. He strives for sensitivity as an antidote to his life’s routines; as long as he maintains the entry and the exit, as long as his hand is on the spigot, he sort of relishes the sensitivity.

For me this is both good and bad. Of course sometimes I want to be the person determining his agenda; sometimes I want to revel with him in his imagination. It’s fun to tag along as he spins out his yarns of music and colors: enhanced textures and virulent emerald greens. But I can’t dissuade Ahmad from accomplishing things — when they are on his list and he feels pressure for whatever reason to strike them, he chastises me to be supportive and allow him his sway. Then he neatly folds his pinwheels and returns them to his back pocket.

When at full force his sensitivity can mix with his imagination to produce astonishing side effects, usually in association with music, art, sex, or love. If he is running full bore he can listen to pretty much any kind of music at all — classical, rock and roll, opera, techno — and match colors, visuals, or stories to the sounds in his mind. He can play the grand baseline or embellish an artistic motif about the piece while interweaving submelodies or counterpoint harmonies. He can visualize the roving plains or the speeding curving racecar or the galloping stallion or the ocean crashing on the palm-tree island.

If he moves beyond the present state he can generate music from memory or from listening to what is playing in the brains of other people, the musical creators of the past, the sound propagating through the radio airwaves, or random associations of imagined instruments and rhythms. At times I will connect with my love to him while he is sitting still and be quite taken by his self-involvement with his swirling colors and tidal sounds.

So the music can drive him toward greater sensitivity or the other way around. Sometimes if Ahmad allows himself to listen to the intention of the musicians and their groove — their connection to the spirituality, sorrows, or love that drives them — it will hypnotize him into an altered state. At other times when he is sitting quietly with his ebb and flow of emotions and a guitar he can “play out” the forces of the void himself. The two can interact: he can bootstrap the sensitivity into musical creation that hypnotizes him further toward more intense play, until he spirals away completely. He might vanish into the global flow of power toward the Gods or spiral into an ancient vortex.

These vortexes can be especially distracting for both of us. Sometimes of course they are not ancient at all — at times high spiritualists manage holes that they punch into the fabric of ethereal space. At other times the vortexes are the sad result of harsh misuse and suffering — the cries of a soul looking for redemption. Screaming and bloody dead souls clawing for lost eyes. At one time Ahmad would have gone right in and confronted the vortex head on: a straight battle — him against the demon — fully armored and weapons to the ready. I would be conflicted whether to hang on or try to force him into something more mundane and safe; then I’d watch the thing rip him to mental shreds, leaving him in a slithering pool of confused anguish. It didn’t affect me directly: I still had my parents to run back to; I could still open up a copy of Vogue and admire the fashions and dream of the day that he would come around to his senses and focus on me first.

And okay, I’ll admit a romantic attraction to the whole thing… it was kind of like my boyfriend was off to war, fighting for the country. Except that he was fighting right here in his own mind: fighting to make the world better by kicking people off of their sorry-ass consumerist bullshit routines and media-driven hyperactivity. He was battling to take away the angst that causes relationships to go bad and lovers to kill one another. He was battling so that we could some day have time to ourselves safe from ravens and vampires.

As he’s aged though he yields the vortex psychics to other warriors — he can be aware of them without annoyance or infringement; he can simply walk away. This is better for both of us: it makes our relationship a bit more stable and less driven by the whimsy of the Gods, although in my heart I do miss the uncertainty and excitement just a little bit. Some of the vortexes have been around for quite a while though; since we are accustomed to their whereabouts they now sometimes function as useful muses. I’m torn myself between what is fun for us and what is best for us; I make a choice every day that’s a bit of a trade for a quieter soul or a greater longing for the sirens of the arts.

Thinking about how the vortexes changed our lives does make us question things seriously though. Do old things have value, or do we strive for making things look aged to imbue them with spirit and provenance? Do I love Ahmad for what he used to be, or do I attribute intense machinations out of respect or my own projected longings? Do we somehow capture our movement through the ether with our music or our photographs and our related memories? Do I cling to Ahmad for our past memories or the memories I know that he will create? Is the texture of life more real than it’s destination? Do overlapping shadows tell more about an object or it’s multiple sources of illumination — or does the truth lie in between, something that talks to their intersection? Is the truth of our relationship something that stands alone between us? When we listen to the birds, do we understand them? Are his ghosts more real than my dreams?

These deep thoughts end up driving Ahmad to muse about an artwork. Not any one in particular, but one that we might be viewing at a specific instant. Being sensitive is useful for appreciating art. It allows us to mind the fiber of the technique, the attention to detail, and the microscopic choices that the artist made to communicate his feelings.

Sometimes we get to view art outdoors (which is a bit of a treat) like a sculpture garden. Most of the time though we will be viewing art indoors… it could be minor art: container packaging, a tile mosaic, or screams from local artists; it could though be art significant enough to rank a place in a museum. But when Ahmad’s indoors admiring art his heightened sensitivities also open him to other distractions that are quiet and sublime, small things of marginal significance.

The double reflections in a window: one image from the front of the pane and one from the inner surface of the second pane. Or the arcs of scratches in a window that encircle an outdoor light. The window scratches are an illusion — the circular pattern seems to follow the light around (with the light at its center) as we move our heads, so it’s probably residue from the last time the windows were cleaned. Or he’ll suddenly show heightened awareness of the color blue: blue items will stand out — set themselves apart from everything else — in all of their varying hues. His eyes will widen and he will whisper to me “blue” and then we will both abruptly have one quarter of our surroundings disjoint from the rest.

Of course when we’re indoors we also connect more with people’s thoughts: it can start with a realization of their feelings, move to their intentions, and then to their auras. Sometimes he will connect with the variety of spiritualists in the area, or the witches, or the ministers, or the ancient vortexes left behind from previous incantations.

Indoors Ahmad remarks on the wood grain in a table top and traces back the rows of widening and narrowing stripes to years of high growth or drought, darkened knothole formations to new branches, and an inclusion there from something once trapped and gradually buried into a fork in the tree. When the thought of trees indoors becomes too oppressive we’ll head out for a bit of a walkabout. Sometimes we’ll stop and marvel at a tree gripping the earth with its gnarled non-random and intertwining roots. Or Ahmad will be struck by a tree’s mottled bark — small dappled blotches of umber, gray, tan, and brown — some areas peeling away while others stand against the elements aged and resilient.

Sometimes he will just listen… trees talk with one another: whispered conversations… they talk about the air, the rain, the bugs, the intrusion of some human activity, and the heat or the humidity. A special breed of living creatures, these trees. Many of them live to be hundreds of years old — as they stay in the same place the world passes by them, our foibles and silly fads and importunities streaming past them while they keep stoic and attentive to the birds and to the seasons, absorbing the energy of the sun, respiring, eking out a millimeter of growth or so, and fanning their leaves.

A lot of the time, after he clears away all of his thoughts and responsibilities and gets himself past any new ideas by going on a long walk, Ahmad will end up being aware of the mountains. Mountains have a certain draw for him — they have a settled gravity and a staunch kind of solemnness: they represent the result of eons of large processes on earth and make him realize the smallness and insignificance of his place in the present. They make us both appropriately small and humble.

A gauzy yellow-green haze encircles the streetlight ahead of us tonight as we walk toward his car. It is not foggy though, nor do any speckles of dust or smoke cloud our view — we have reached that peculiar mental state where we are vacant of any intervening thoughts; Ahmad’s sensitivities are approaching a modestly high level. He is aware of the tires of cars as they occasionally pass, the gripping of steel-backed rubber on asphalt, the mixture of skwoosh and fricative traction along with the passing Doppler shifts. Across the street a gentleman touches his brain and nods; he nods in return acknowledgement. The stranger’s intrusion into his otherwise perfect emptiness disturbs Ahmad a tad; the stranger’s wake of thoughts streams trailers of distracting dots across Ahmad’s imaginative brain. Then the stranger is far enough away, or connected to somebody else, and Ahmad is quiet and empty. Again we hear the skwoosh of tires as another car passes and then a clunk-clunk as it rolls over a manhole cover.

Tonight Ahmad is allowing himself to sail out to greater awareness and sensitivity of his own accord — it is a chance to live slightly more “on the edge,” to allow his imagination to bob free. He stops cold in his tracks looking at a passing car… then another — they each seem to have an odd bluish tint reflecting back to us as they pass. After a couple more cars cross he recognizes that he is seeing the distortions in their windows of a blue neon light stripe from an adjacent building. As we resume our little walk he smells the lingering of scented candle wax. He steps around a spot in the sidewalk that the city repaired with a splotch of asphalt. Temporarily the environment fragments around him, resolving into patches of light and colors, gradations of shadow and texture. He is a brain inside a head receiving visual images, rapidly decompressing and three-dimensioning and creating faces and memories and categorizing shapes, building, automobiles, trees, reflectivities.

I know this because I love him.

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Categories: Artists

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